Ben Affleck’s career has been defined by playing arrogant and charming men. His character in The Way Back is a refreshing break from his usual roles. However, the film itself somehow manages to subvert genre while staying frustratingly trite. Directed by Gavin O’Conner, Ben Affleck stars as Jack, an “almost professional” basketball player turned alcoholic who returns to his high school to coach their team.
It’s hard not to compare Affleck’s personal life to Jack’s storyline. Affleck himself has described the role as therapeutic. The lack of separation between the character and actor allows Affleck to give one of his best performances (he plays the perfect weary every-man) but caused a distracting viewing experience.
Surprisingly, The Way Back has an overarching theme of faith. Jack coaches at a Catholic high school, and several characters discuss religion, the concept of God, and generally believing in things. This theme was a pleasant surprise that added depth to a shallow plot.
The Way Back is a completely serviceable sports movie about beating the odds. As with most uplifting sports movies, The Way Back is boringly masculine without any of the redeeming qualities of masculinity. There are several jokes at the expense of women and a character whose only purpose is to be overweight and love dancing. The teenage basketball players only speak in cliches. In fact, any character that isn’t Affleck’s Jack is a stereotype. And a significant amount of the runtime is dedicated to watching Jack be sad and drink beer.
But another highlight of the film is the score. Composed by Rob Simonsen, whose previous credits include The Spectacular Now and The Age of Adelaide, the beautiful and engaging score almost feels out of place in the film.
I won’t spoil the other clever surprises in The Way Back, but they create a frustrating viewing experience. Viewers get a glimpse at what could have been an engaging subversion of genre if more care was given to developing characters outside of the lead.